I went to see Bill Maher's Religulous last night. With characteristic mean-spiritedness, Maher takes on organized religion and spirituality, but it's a foray into a conversation worth having -- or a first volley in a rationalist/spiritualist war.
Maher begins by suggesting that he wants to know what makes Religion -- principally, the largest three monotheistic religions (though he ventures into the c*nnabis religion , Scientology and Mormonism briefly) -- tick. But he doesn't, really -- in Maher style, he wants to tick Them off. And he does.
Along the way, he meets the man some believe to be the antichrist who concedes that if Satan had told him he was his representative, he would have done that job just as well. He meets a former soul-singer preacher with lizard shoes and lots of bling, who argues that Jesus was "rich" and dressed well.
But first, he meets a trucker, in the trucker's chapel, who prays for Bill, asks for God's blessing on Bill. Bill thanks him for being not just a Christian but Christ-like.
Bill goes places I've written about here -- places I want to see/don't want to see: Creation and Holy Land theme parks. The Holy Land's "Jesus" is remarkably articulate. Bill never acknowledges that Pascal's Wager is not just for idiots, but for Blaise Pascal as well -- he never considers Pascal's thinking on uncertainty, that even uncertainty in all things is not certain. He's that sure of his skepticism.
He short changes the director of the Human Genome project, one of the small percentage of non-atheists in the basic sciences. He has a fantastic conversation with the director of the Vatican Observatory. He insists that the most horrific things ever done have been done in the name of God -- but he forgets that the most beautiful and wondrous have been, too.
And then, standing on the place in the Holy Land where many people believe Jesus will return, Maher pleads for skepticism -- to save the world. With a montage of nuclear bombs and scripture from Revelations and the Qu'ran, Maher reminds of one of his earlier complaints -- there's nothing he likes less than prophecy, except self-fulfilling prophecy. We can't have someone who actually wants this world to pass to hold the power to make it so. But in the end his target is not "extremists," but those moderates he decries as collaborators.
I can't recommend it -- I left the theater with blues I can't shake -- but I'd sure love it if you'd join in the conversation.